Neon Genesis Evangelion—Fly Me to the Moon

As much as any one show can, Evangelion seems to encompass what anime is. Towering mecha duking it out with even more massive monsters, cutesy animal mascots, catchy opening music, and two candidates for “best girl” that have engendered debates going on for two decades now.

But as the episodes go by, this begins to feel less and less true. Those marvels of mechanical might, the show’s “Eva,” are almost indescribably unsettling. The solid, purposeful movements of their super robot show forebears are replaced with agile, animalistic strides; metallic joints flex and tighten in supple, organic ways; and instead of serving solely as window to the pilot themselves, we see a robot that is alive with growls and groans and wounds that ooze and bleed.

The pilots, too, defy expectation. These are not plucky, self-assured heroes ready to save the world. They’re children, children who strive for the approval and affection of the adults around them, but find only demands and expectations in return. Anime-whipping-boy Shinji is often portrayed as a whiner by fans, but if anything, through most of the show’s run he readily submits himself to a job time and again that, rightly so, terrifies him—just so he achieve what he desires most: attention from his father.

Shinji is hardly alone in this regard. Asuka blusters and postures in an attempt to appear the self-sufficient adult in the face of a mother who abandoned her. Rei, who knows no life at all but to be used, struggles to understand relationships beyond the immutable tool dynamic forced upon her. Even characters like Misato and Ritsuko, full-grown adults, struggle with the remnants of their own childhoods and parental trauma and deal with it in flawed, self-destructive ways.

The show reveals this to us, little by little, in the guise of a monster-of-the-week show. An “Angel” shows up, bringing with it its own unique conundrum that must be solved before the episode’s end. Our youthful pilots are forced to confront their doubts and shortcomings, whether it’s Shinji’s trepidation about “getting in the robot”, his synchronizing with Asuka—and thus being forced to form an emotional connection with someone—in one of the series’ highlight episodes, or dealing with the inherent morality of being arbiters of life and death. As Evangelion goes through the motions of the genre it embodies, it deconstructs it in meaningful, interesting ways.

But no matter how many Angels there are to defeat, no matter how many tribulations must be triumphed over, what every character in the show wants, really, is to be loved—to be accepted for the flawed, broken people that they are. Even the infamous Gendo Ikari, for all his glasses flashing, finger temple-ing, abysmal parenting, is only seeking to recapture the love he has lost while failing completely to impart that same love to his son.

But as the show hurtles on to its conclusion, any semblance of careful pacing is thrown out the window. Gone are the bits and pieces of character development interspersed with tense action sequences and breath-catching moments of levity. Instead we are treated to diatribes of incomprehensible technobabble that, instead of buoying our characters’ development, threaten to overshadow them at every turn. The introduction of Kaoru, a seminal encounter in Shinji’s aspiration for acceptance, rushes through its character arc in a mere 25 minutes, something that could’ve lasted an entire season, and in doing so obliterates any chance to inspire the emotional connection it strives to impart.

And then we find ourselves reaching Evangelion’s controversial climax—the ending the franchise has spent the better part of this millennium rewriting over and over. The truth of the matter is it’s not a bad ending at all. The entire show has been building up to this moment in Shinji’s life, this monologue of introspection where Shinji really has to deal with his anxiety and depression without hiding or running away.

But the moment is buried under baffling reused animation clips and the dangling questions of the shows’ own plot. What has been Seele’s goal all along? Gendo Ikari’s? What are the Dead Sea Scrolls? What were the Angels? What is this Human Instrumentality Project introduced in the show’s eleventh hour? It’s hard to cast blame for disliking an ending that feels so woefully incomplete. But if you’re willing to write away these questions as window dressing, or supplement your viewing with a bit of research, Eva’s ending encapsulates a complete catharsis of Shinji’s struggle—and as such is a much more satisfying ending that the more explicitly explained (yet somehow even more discombobulating) End of Evangelion.

But perhaps this incompleteness is as much a part of Evangelion’s enduring appeal as its memorable characters and awe-inspired designs. As the show takes its journey from sumptuously animated straight-up action romp to avant guard stream-of-consciousness introspection, there is a spot on this crazy train for everyone. And perhaps that’s why no single end-of-the-line is ever going to appease everyone. Like Shinji, perhaps Evangelion is something we simply ask too much from.

Perhaps that’s about as fitting a legacy as you’ll get.

Evangelion and OVA

Despite the length I go to demonstrate Eva’s super-robot trappings as a frame for a story about the human condition, inevitably the first question most people will ask about representing Eva in OVA is “How do we make the mecha go boom-boom?”

The answer is pretty straightforward. None of the Evas demonstrate any specific strengths or weaknesses, and even their armaments tend to be slave to the plot as opposed to anything concretely measured or differentiated. Just stat up capable combatants with decent points in “Attack” and you’ll be hard-pressed to go wrong.

What Evangelion does bring to the table that’s inherently interesting is the Eva units almost complete lack of a self-sustaining power-source. Without being literally plugged in, Evas run out of juice within minutes. It’s a fascinating wrinkle to the Angel-fighting hijinks, and one that immediately sets Evangelion apart from other giant robot-style shows.

Racing Against the Clock

Time is relatively abstract in OVA. You won’t find passages in the text extolling that a round is ten seconds long, or that a given action chips off a discrete amount of time from a hypothetical clock. For most narrative purposes, this works just fine.

But sometimes time matters—really matters. Evangelion drives this concept home when the Evas become separated from a dedicated power source. Whether due to severed plugs, long-distance deployment, or enemy interference, as much as the Angels themselves, time is the enemy.

That’s not to say one should adopt the ten-second round or anything so pedantically concrete. Despite the explicitly defined “five minutes” of the show, the narrative beats stretch and contract to fit whatever the plot demands. It is a constraint, but an elastic one.

So instead of setting a real-world time frame, it’s more prudent to simply assign a number of “Beats.” 10 is a decent amount, but this can be expanded or reduced as the Game Master sees fit. Likewise, the Game Master can increment the clock at any time. You could do this once a round, but also consider the narrative flow of the story:

  • A character completes an action that takes a step towards a goal—or prevents another from completing their own.
  • A character has dealt or received a significant chunk of damage. (Ie. by inflicting/incurring the zero Health Penalty.)
  • An NPC provides useful information that contributes to the current conflict.

Also certain rolls will affect the spending of Beats.

  • If a character has an Amazing Success, or inflicts a complication, that action will never spend a Beat.
  • If a character fails an action of importance, it will always spend a Beat. (Missing in Combat does not count.)

But the flow of time is not solely at the Game Master’s discretion or the whim of the dice. The Players can use time to their advantage, or expend more of themselves to get the job done a little faster.

  • A character may spend Drama Dice (or incur a –1 Penalty) to buy off a Beat that would ordinarily be spent.
  • A character may get a Drama die by spending an extra Beat.

Obviously when there are no more Beats, time has run out! Hopefully the PCs have plenty of Endurance to burn to keep that from happening!

…By the by, that whole “best girl” thing I mentioned earlier? There’s only one right answer.

My Hero Academia—Plus Ultra!

It’s hard to miss how My Hero Academia draws inspiration from American superhero comics, whether it’s the use of half-tone screens and visible sound effects, the dazzling array of colorful spandex uniforms and creative super hero aliases, or the sheer existence of All Might himself, a paragon—perhaps even parody—of superheroism, down to being the only character in the show shaded with solid blacks.

But don’t be fooled for a moment, as it’s still a very Japanese show. The main cast attend a superhero school (because of course they do), and our protagonist, Midoriya “Deku” Izuku is set to follow the ever-popular zero-to-hero shounen journey. In a world where 80% of the population is born with a “quirk,” the show’s name for super powers, Deku is forced to face that he, no matter how much he strives to be a super hero like his idol All Might, cannot overcome the immutable fact that he has no quirk to call his own.

Despite this, Deku is so emotionally invested in the concept of the superhero that he constantly assesses every battle he witnesses, detailing countless minutia and cataloging it in his hero notebook. It is with this knowledge that he manages to face a supervillain and attempt to save his childhood friend Bakugo from certain death. Through this selfless bravery, All Might realizes that Midoriya has what it takes to be a superhero and reveals a tremendous secret, that he can pass on his powers—and that he has chosen the green-haired youth to receive them.

Honestly, I was half-disappointed by this. I saw in Midoriya’s first “battle” the potential for something unique, a shounen show that bucked the “blessed golden child with the ultimate power” in favor of Deku, a selfless, caring boy who would somehow make it through by his wits alone, using his encyclopedic knowledge to overcome his lack of a quirk and become a hero despite it all. When All Might passed on a small piece of his power, I crossed my fingers for it to be a sort of Dumbo’s feather.

This was not to be, of course, as Midoriya does in fact inherit All Might’s quirk “One For All,” but the show cleverly manages to accomplish everything I hoped anyway. With the immense power provided by One For All, Deku is grievously injured any time he attempts to use it. While this does provide his character a built-in McGuffin any time the plot calls for it, for the most part Deku has to creatively work around using his quirk as minimally as possible. It spins the usual shounen trope of overcoming obstacles with reckless shows of power and makes every encounter an exercise in careful calculation. Moreover, Deku’s constant sacrifice is just a magnificent tear-jerker every time the show’s excellent musical score swells.

That’s pretty fitting, since I think there’s good argument that Deku did have a quirk: the ability to pour forth obscene amounts of bodily fluids out of his face.

But Deku is just one part of My Hero Academia. I think what is actually one of the most fascinating things about the show is how the main characters work together. Hero teamups—heck, superhero teamups, are hardly a new concept, but whereas it’s typically just a merry-go-round of characters showing off their expertise, My Hero Academia really highlights the students using their quirks in creative ways to overcome each other’s weaknesses and maximize their potential. Whether it’s Yaoyorizu using her “Creation” quirk to create a electric proof barrier so Kaminari can shock the field, or Todoroki cooling off Iida’s overheated engine exhausts so he can wrench out just a little more power, watching these young heroes triumph in the face of adversity is a joy to watch.

If there were a criticism I’d level at My Hero Academia, it’s that there’s some serious body horror going on. Whether it’s Iida’s aforementioned exhaust pipes jutting unnaturally out of his calves, Hanta ejecting tape from his elbows, or just Midoriya’s penchant for flying through the air with multiple limbs broken and flailing, I can’t help but continuously be a little squicked out as I watch.

Yet, it’s hard to complain too much about that, as there’s so many genuinely fascinating quirks being shown off here. There’s standbys like super strength and super speed of course, but then there’s Ochaco’s ability to eliminate gravity for everything she touches, Yaoyorizu’s creation, and yes, even Mineta’s super-sticky hair balls that remind you that My Hero Academia is more than just a nod to the Western super hero, but instead a uniquely awesome thing of its own.

Moreover, despite the fact there are a lot of really weird looking quirks, this is never brought up by any character. There’s no teasing, no horror, no disgust. Everyone’s differences are accepted—embraced really. In the end, the show is a tribute to what we can do together, and that’s a goal that surpasses prejudice and shame. We can all be heroes—we can go beyond. Even if we don’t have a quirk.

My Hero Academia and OVA

Many moons ago, I remember reading on a forum where someone criticized the original edition of OVA as “just a supers game with an anime coat of paint.” I never really saw this as much of a criticism. What is a supers game, after all, if not a system attempting to embrace all possibilities? But hey, I guess that means it’s well-suited for My Hero Academia, right? Let’s take a crack at representing a few of the show’s many unique quirks.


One For All (Midoriya)—Few things compare to the sheer power behind One For All. Wielded by All Might, it’s a strength so powerful that seemingly no enemy can withstand it, and even simple feats like jumping appear more like flying. However, in the hands of an inexperienced youth like Midoriya, it is an unwieldy, dangerous power—one that’s as likely to hurt the user as it is to accomplish its goals. When a character activates One For All, they must make a roll using their One For All dice and compare it a DN based on the Bonus they wish to receive.

  • +2 Bonus — 6 DN
  • +4 Bonus — 8 DN
  • +6 Bonus — 10 DN
  • +8 Bonus — 12 DN
  • +10 Bonus — 15 DN

This Bonus still goes into effect even if the roll is failed. However, the character will receive an Impairment. If the character attempted a DN of 6 or 8, it will be a –1 Impairment. 10 or 12, –2, and 15, –3.

The Bonus only applies to one action. If the character wishes to apply the Bonus to another, they must again roll on the previous table—and again risk injury.

Characters with more training can take advantage of a more sustainable version of the One For All Quirk. It’s less effective for the same difficulty. However, the bonus may be maintained throughout a single combat. This is called Full Cowling.

  • +1 Bonus — 6 DN
  • +2 Bonus — 8 DN
  • +3 Bonus — 10 DN
  • +4 Bonus — 12 DN
  • +5 Bonus — 15 DN

Unlike with the more powerful version of One For All, Full-Cowling failure doesn’t injure the character. However, they are Stunned and lose their action. If they want to receive their desired bonus, they must try again next round.

One For All’s Bonus is generally for strength related tasks, though it can also be harnessed for speed and maneuverability when appropriate. The Game Master has the final say on what can and can’t be accomplished with One For All.

Explosion (Bakugo)—The Explosion quirk is a fairly straightforward damage-dealing ability best represented with a suite of attacks, . However, creative use of these explosions can allow for increased Quickness and even something akin to Flight, so including these Abilities would be appropriate.


  • Explosion (Affinity: Explosion)
  • Howitzer Impact (Area Effect x2; Delayed; 15 Endurance)
  • Stun Grenade (No Damage; Blinding; 0 Endurance)
  • AP Shot (Armor Piercing, Effective; Inaccurate; 5 Endurance)

Zero Gravity (Uraraka)—Zero Gravity is effectively the Telekinesis Ability with the following limitations: A character must touch the object before it can be manipulated, and any objects of 12 or higher difficulty will cause the user to become nauseated soon afterwards. A character suffering from Zero Gravity induced nausea may take no Actions next turn, not even Defense Rolls, while they recover.

The user may also cancel the effect of Zero Gravity at any time by placing their fingertips together. The resulting falling objects may be quite dangerous themselves. Use the DX chart on page 110 of OVA, and the Distance Fallen chart on page 111 to represent this.

Engine (Iida)—Characters with this Quirk receive a Bonus to all tests of speed equal to their Level in Engine. In addition, through the Recipro Burst maneuver, a character may receive double this Bonus for the next two rounds. However, this comes at the cost of not being able to use the Quirk at all for a significant amount of time. (Usually for the rest of the encounter, but this is ultimately left to the Game Master’s discretion.)

If the exhaust pipes for the Engine are in any way obstructed, the Quirk cannot work. By the same token, if another character can forcibly cool down the overworked Engine from Recipro Burst, the effect may be extended another two rounds.

Hot & Cold (Todoroki)—Whereas most heroes’ quirks tend to be rather focused, Todoroki’s hot and cold halves give him a pretty versatile moveset. At the forefront is the sheer power of his attacks, so giving him high Levels in Attack is a must. (Don’t forget to include Affinities for Hot AND cold!) His ice side can also be creatively used as a Barrier.

Frog Form (Asui)—While it might be tempting to assign a bunch of custom Abilities to represent various frog powers of leaping and tongue swinging, you can really cover both with elevated levels of Agile and Quick. Including an attack with the Paralyzing Perk and Ineffective or No Damage Flaws for more offensive uses of her tongue is also a good idea. And Ranged. Lots and lots of Ranged. Camouflage is easily covered by Art of Invisibility or even full-on Invisibility.

Creation (Yaoyorozu)—The Creation Quirk works similarly to Dimensional Pocket (p. 52 of OVA). However, difficulty—instead of being based on usefulness—is based on the size of the item being created, and instead of rolling against a Difficulty Number, more difficult items simply take longer to create.

  • Tiny — 3 Rounds
  • Small — 4 Rounds
  • Moderate — 5 Rounds
  • Sizable — 6 Rounds
  • Large — 7 Rounds
  • Immense — 8 Rounds

For each Level you have in Creation, reduce the number of Rounds required by 1. If this number is reduced to zero, the item may be created instantaneously. It still requires an Action, but the item is immediately in your possession.

There are a few other limitations to Creation: Only inanimate objects may be created, and objects created require exposed skin to manifest. Larger items require greater surface area in order to successfully complete, making minimal attire preferable when using this quirk.

Hardening (Kirishima)—One’s first impulse may be to represent this quirk with Armored, and that would work fine. But I think using Barrier is a better fit for two reasons: 1) Hardening is almost always shown as completely negating Damage, which only Barrier can do reliably, and 2) Hardening grows less effective over time. This can easily be representing by having less and less Endurance to spend on nullifying damage.

Hardening also seems to impart some bonus to power, so including a few Levels of Strong is also probably a good idea.

Electrification (Kaminari)—Some heavy doses of Area Effect and Effective combined with Cancel (Non-Conductive Objects) and a special Flaw of short-circuiting the brain will result in suitably shocking Ability.

Invisibility (Hagakure)

Dark Shadow (Tokoyami)—Dark Shadow is a powerful, versatile quirk that’s not terribly well-defined in what it can and can’t do. In general, a character with this quirk has great offensive and defensive capabilities, and the fact that it is the “Dark Shadow” doing the work can be written off as flavor as opposed to being individually represented as a “power.”

What can be specifically represented is Dark Shadow’s most overt shortcoming—the fact that it is much less powerful in bright light than it is in darkness. The WeaknessSuppressed Power will do the trick nicely. One can also throw in Accidental Transformation to represent the loss of control should Dark Shadow’s own force of will overwhelm the user’s.

Pop Off (Mineta)—Oh Mineta—to be honest, you could probably just handwave all of Mineta’s “powers” since he’s played up almost entirely for comic relief. But if you want, you could make a suite of Attacks using Perks like Impairing and Paralyzingbut the No Damage Flaw. Trap is another great consideration.

And that’s it for My Hero Academia! Of course, there are many, many other students with equally OVA-able quirks—and I haven’t even touched on the faculty or the villains—but it should give you a good start on putting a little PLUS ULTRA in your game. But for the sake of discussion, what is your favorite quirk missing from this list? Tell me in the comments below!

Announcing OVA: VR Battles!

I’ve had some time to reflect on the future of OVA, and I decided it is high time to move away from the pencils and papers of yesteryear and fully embrace the future: video games! But too much “future” at one time is a risky proposition for a well-meaning time traveler, so I’m hedging my bets and adopting the Arduboy Arduino-powered 8-bit console. This little piece of hardware is the perfect compromise between the future of gaming and a little bit of its past, too. And since it’s hardly bigger than a credit card, it can go everywhere you go!

Wise Turtle’s first release will be OVA: VR Battles. Everyone’s favorite Missile Maiden Miho has been sucked into a virtual reality world and forced to battle cyber versions of friends and foes alike!

  • Hours of JRPG-inspired gameplay combined with classic OVA features
  • Roll the dice and time your button presses to make matches
  • Earn XP to upgrade Miho to your specifications and play-style
  • Play on a special OVA-branded Arduboy, shipping April 1st, 2019!

So are you excited? I know I am! Let me know what you think in the comments!

OVA at MechaCon

If you’re an anime fan in the New Orleans area, you probably know all about MechaCon. Should the promise of panels, events, special guests, and legions of cosplayers descending on the Big Easy not ensure your attendance, you’ll have one more reason to go: Wise Turtle and MechaCon are teaming up!

As the official RPG of MechaCon, OVA will power campaigns and content featuring their GEARE Universe. While much of this won’t kick off until next year’s convention, you can still drop by and pick up a copy of OVA and take in the sights and sounds of a bit of Japan in our part of the beautiful South.

Ruling the Rules

Those of you who happen to have a copy of OVA’s first edition might remember its afterword, wherein I described my early adventures in RPG design and an epiphany concerning how to make OVA not only better, but different from any RPG that had come before: by dropping hard-coded stats from the game.

But it wasn’t the first RPG to do that. Not quite anyway. I’d later discover that characters being made up of customizable traits instead of a preset array of attributes had been done by Ross’s RISUS and before that by Tweet’s Over the Edge. They’re not quite the same of course—OVA goes so far as to define a vast collection of its Abilities and Weaknesses (making up the longest chapter in the book), while both of the aforementioned titles are far more freeform affairs.

But even so, it was a big step for quote-unquote anime RPGs, and considering how grounded I was in the RPGs of the 80s and 90s, it was still a big step for me. When I approached the new revised edition of my game I wanted to do my best to keep my eyes open for similar evolutions in its design.

Something that was important to me in the original OVA was not to punish players for being “cool.” My favorite example of this is the protagonist of Cowboy Bebop, Spike Spiegel. Again and again throughout the series, Spike is shown to be a skilled martial artist and marksman. This is a build that simply doesn’t work in many RPGs because it requires putting points into two usually separate skills, hand-to-hand and guns. What little versatility is offered by training in both is quickly overshadowed by the limited resource of build points—a character can only be half as good in two areas as they could be in one.

SpikeSpiegel But Spike isn’t just sort of good at both, he’s great. And if you couldn’t create Spike with ease in OVA, then that’s as much of a litmus test as anything. With that in mind, I condensed every combat skill into an Ability called, well, Combat Skill. With one attribute, your character was adept at attacking, whatever form that takes. Sure, it flies in the face of most RPG design that routinely compartmentalize such things, but it just made things so much easier. You could still just do one thing, of course, but if you ever wanted to branch out, you weren’t punished for it.

But the original OVA still didn’t eliminate the issue. While your ability to hit your opponent was sufficiently simplified, there were still several Abilities to cover actually doing damage. Martial Arts increased damage barehanded, Weapon gave you a weapon, and Power Move let you create a suite of special attacks that dealt even more damage but burned Endurance. It’s a system that worked, but you were still faced with paying more points to build Spike. You had to buy Martial Arts and Weapon—and arguably Power Move to boot.

So I made the single most drastic change between the editions of OVA, I condensed all the damage-increasing Abilities into one called Attack, just as I had with Combat Skill years before. While this did solve the Spike Spiegel issue deftly, probably the biggest boon from this was that it rolled the idea behind Power Move into an Ability that allowed every character to create a suite of attack moves. Whereas before it was limited to flashy energy blasts and the like, now every strike could be its own separate technique. Samurais could swap between offensive styles, ninjas could throw in a sweep kick in their repertoire, and, yes, Spike could mix up gunplay and really swanky fisticuffs. It’s a system that just works for recreating the cinematic style of combat. Moreover, because all Attack represented was your capacity to dish out damage, characters could literally describe these attacks as anything they want at any time. Want to smash a chair over an opponent’s head or stomp a loose plank into their groin? Use your Attack level without worrying about calculating the actual damage of these impromptu weapons. Characters do this all the time in action anime, but it’s typically very hard to recreate in an RPG. No longer!

ova-attack While this was easily the most gratifying change to OVA, there’s a vast variety of additions and improvements that I’m also fond of. The original game’s “knockback” was split into three separate combat complications, giving more tactical options to the otherwise streamlined rules. Looking at these, I realized that I could take the same concept and apply them outside of combat, and Succeeding with Complications was born. While I won’t be foolhardy enough to claim this is an entirely new idea (Fate, if nothing else, pushes the “fail forward” concept hard), I’m really please with how neatly it fits into OVA and brings combat and out-of-combat closer together thematically.

Scale was another useful addition, making it really simple to represent vast differences in ability. Need to have a mecha and a battleship go toe-to-toe? You can do that. How about a plucky Pokémon trainer and a tank? Sure, why not. The bout between mere martial artist and a Super-Saiyan martial artist? Faster than you can say, “ His power level is over NINE-THOUSAAAAND!” It’s all represented by a +5 bonus, and it just makes what can be really difficult in other RPGs quick and fun.

Besides that, I focused on consistency, consistency, consistency. Whenever a rule didn’t have a compelling reason to behave differently than other rules, I changed it so that it no longer did. Not only does this make concepts easier to remember, it creates a reliable foundation for hacking the system to do new things. (This happens a lot over at the Wise Turtle Forums.)

And that’s it for three-part my retrospective of OVA! How about you, readers? Do you have a particular favorite addition to the revised game? Or perhaps you remember a houserule for another RPG that you thought was really novel? Let me know in the comments!


Art and Soul

Being a game about anime, art was always an important facet of OVA to me. When I made the original book, I did my best to overcome my inexperience and lack of budget to fill it with illustrations that appealed to the Japanese conventions I admired. I enlisted the help of numerous artists, among them friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers in the quest to illustrate my first RPG. And when there was no one else, I even took to illustrating a few pictures myself.

But I wanted more than just random pieces of art featuring equally random saucer-eyed teenagers, presented to the reader without context. I wanted to create a cast of characters, an entourage of affable faces that exhibited the tropes and themes that resonated with anime fans and could be recognized from page to page. They were like friends, helpful guides that would make that one special power or rules concept something tangible. You can see it in action and know how it works because, hey, that character uses it!

To this end, the first character I created for OVA was everyone’s favorite mechanical maiden with a human heart, Miho. She distilled everything I felt encompassed anime in one place, from her wild-colored hair, to the contrast of her robotic nature and human emotions, to—yes—a certain lack of aptitude in the culinary arts. Unsurprisingly, Miho is also the focus of some of the oldest art I have for the book. While her concept has always been more or less the same, you can see in Kelly Hamilton’s initial design sketches that she was once much more robotic than her final design! MihoSketches The military-inspired uniform makes its first appearance here and was used for her final design. This iconic ensemble would go on to be featured (more or less) in the revised game, despite the fact that most other character designs changed completely.

But with all the different artists, the original OVA was a bit scattered in terms of style. The second time around, I wanted OVA to have a cohesive look, to feel like a single anime series as it were. So I decided to have all the work done by one artist: Niko Geyer. If you’ve played a certain other anime role-playing game, you may recognize his work, but we’ve been friends for decades (even did a webcomic once upon a time). While many illustrations are brand new, quite a few favorites were remade.

ova-artcomparison Oh, and if you’re wondering about my illustrations mentioned earlier, here’s a final comparison featuring everyone’s favorite copper, Jiro.

ova-artcomparison2 Slight improvement, right?

So who is you favorite character from OVA? What about your favorite piece of art from the revised book? Feel free to click on this post and leave a comment below!

There and Back Again

It’s been eleven years since I released OVA. More than a decade. It’s a span of time that simultaneously feels endlessly long and impossibly short. It’s a time in which things have changed. RPG PDFs, once a niche undertaking that only some took advantage of, are now the type of product almost every serious RPG maker releases. These same PDFs exist not on just computers, but on incredible machines touted about in pockets and backpacks, portable digital libraries that were the stuff of science fiction when OVA first came out. These same devices connect us more than ever before, with more ways to share, reshare, and discover. We consume media differently, with the very anime OVA is inspired by available at the click of a button and ready to watch any time, anywhere.

I’m different too. A little older of course, but hopefully a little wiser and a little more adept at making these curious games called RPGs. It’s this accumulation of knowledge that helped make the new revised edition of OVA possible. I’ve learned a lot in these years, and I put every bit of it into the game. So the passing of yet another anniversary seemed as good an excuse as any to visit the differences between the book I made then and the one available now. So here is my three-part look at OVA, old and new! First up, let’s look at the graphic design.

When I created the original OVA, I was not a graphic designer. I always had an interest in it; countless hours spent collecting fonts, designing character sheets, and a few too many greeting cards created in Print Shop Deluxe were testament enough to that. But it wasn’t something I was really cognizant of being a thing. Yet I knew there was more to making a book than typing into Microsoft Word a coherent series of thoughts and hoping for the best. I taught myself about layouts and dpis, of leading and bleed, and the Byzantine puzzles that made up Quark, and somehow made it happen.

Since then, I’ve abandoned Quark for InDesign, and at least partially mastered its own idiosyncrasies. I have been a part of dozens of books, board games, and other projects. Put succinctly, I got better. What did that mean for the new version of OVA? Let’s take a look by comparing a spread from both versions.

OVA-OldSpread OVA-NewSpread I chose this set of pages because it’s one of the few spreads that remained effectively identical between the versions with text and art placement. I think it demonstrates the difference a bit of experience makes pretty well! There are a lot of things I could point out, but here are some of the biggest points of advice I can share.

Give the Layout Room to Breathe

If you look in the original book, the text is butted up to the edge of pretty much everything. The text in the note boxes practically touch the black outline of its container. Even outside of these constraints, you’ll see text struggle against large areas of artwork, almost dwarfed entirely by the sheer proximity. Economy is taught as a virtue, but for the sake of a pleasant reading experience, don’t be afraid to give the text a little room to breathe. If you plan for your book to appear in print, that means giving it some birth in the center margin as well, just so it’s not lost in the spine of your book.

It’s also okay for some areas of the page to just be blank. In the old design, almost every square inch of the page has some graphical element. Again, the idea that “more is better and nothing is bad” is a phallacy you should take out of your design vocabulary right away. Compare to the new header and footer, blank except for a dotted line. (Trivia: InDesign refers to this particular dot size/pattern as “Japanese Dots.” Pretty apropos, right?)

Treat the Text with Respect

Just like arranging the elements of a page is more than just slapping words together, rendering the text itself is something that deserves your consideration. Taking the time to learn a bit about good typography is a subtle but indispensable tool in your arsenal if you plan to typeset your own books. There are lots of great books on the subject (including Robert Bringhurst’s classic, and software independent, Elements of Typographic Style), but here’s a quick and dirty list of some of the most important things I’ve learned over the years. Just do me a favor and don’t point out how many of these mistakes appear in the old book!

  • Excise bad typographical habits. We’ve all heard things like “double-space after periods.” …Don’t do it. It’s a throwback to the days of the typewriter and has no place in your manuscript. Likewise, replace trios of periods with proper ellipsis characters (. . . vs. …), and learn the difference between the various dashes. A hyphen is not a catch-all, and using “- -”   in place of the appropriate dash is sloppy. And for those of you who use measurements in your games, the feet and inch marks are primes (″), not quotes (”).
  • Oh, you don’t want to google about dashes? To quickly summarize, a hyphen is the shortest (-), and the mark you’re most used to making. Its only use is compound words and breaking words at the end of lines in justified text. The en dash is debatably the width of an n (–), and should be used to indicate ranges of figures (2–4 oatmeal cookies). It also works as a minus sign before negative numbers (–2), thought technically there’s a dedicated symbol for that purpose if you want to get really nitpicky. Finally, the em dash is the longest (—). Use it for abrupt changes of thought—is anyone still reading this?—and for attributions. You can also use an en dash for changes of thought, but it needs spaces around – whereas the em dash does not.
  • Make sure your lines are not too long or too short. The optimal number of characters is around 60-70 per line (including spaces), but you can swing as low as 40 and as high as 85 or so. The “Word Document” effect, where you just throw text full-width on letter-sized pages is both terribly unprofessional and just plain trying to read. Also consider increasing the leading (gap between lines) for longer lines to improve readability.
  • Don’t indent the first paragraph of a section. It’s unnecessary and tends to look choppy after headings, which RPGs love to use a lot of.
  • Don’t just use a series of carriage returns to separate lines. If you have a list of items in a row, consider bullet points or increased leading between the lines. Full line skips feels gappy at best and lazy at worst.
  • Use proper italics. Good typefaces will have dedicated fonts to represent emphasis, with it usually taking a cursive-like appearance. It is not just the upright font slanted, which is a butchery that should be stopped.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix serif (typefaces with little “feet” like Times New Roman) and sans serif (typefaces sans these feet like Helvetica/Arial). Used in a consistent manner, it can help give different types of text (like OVA’s note and example boxes) their own character and further individualize them from the surrounding text. While I stuck with serif for the body of OVA, it’s perfectly possible to set a book entirely in a sans serif typeface. Just print out a page and make sure it feels comfortable to read at length.
  • If you use InDesign, turn on Optical Alignment in the Story panel. This allows punctuation and other small marks to hang outside the margin and give a much more pleasing edge to your paragraphs when justified. You can thank me later.
  • Last but not least, customize your justification and hyphenation settings. Most of the settings out of the box just aren’t that great. I’ve included a screenshot of some of my preferred settings below. There are lots of great articles on what these numbers mean, but this should help you a bit.


Learn From the Best

While absorbing tips and guidelines is well and good, one of the main ways to improve your book layouts is by reading. Look at your favorite, most beautiful books. Study them. See what they did right. Don’t be afraid to look outside of RPGs for inspiration. Video game advertisements, cookbooks, and even that 99 cent app you downloaded yesterday can all feature valuable lessons in design. Just always keep your eyes open. OVA took a page from the manga that inspired it, adopting the A5 form factor over the more traditional 6″×9″.

That’s it for now. Come back next time for when I look at the evolution of OVA’s art and its characters.